Neo-tribes based on chosen lifestyles and reflect the shift to postmodern society,
Neo-tribes are associations of consumer groups (such as consumers of dance music) who come together in particular settings where they express similar tastes. They do not form coherent groups outside those settings, but when they are together they are influenced by one another.
For example, at a rave, a person will assume the identity of a ‘raver’ for the night, and then resume an ordinary, mundane identity as a ‘worker’ Monday to Friday.
From subcultures to neo-tribes
Andy Bennett (1996) argued the term subculture is not useful for describing groups of young people who share similar tastes in style and music. Clearly defined youth subcultures do not exist among contemporary youth. Instead, young people assume identities in particular settings.
“There is very little evidence that even the most committed groups of youth stylists are in any way as ‘coherent’ or ‘fixed’ as the term ‘subculture’ implies. On the contrary, it seems to me that so-called youth ‘subcultures’ are prime examples of the shifting cultural affiliations which characterize late modern consumer societies”. (1)
There is more cross-filtration of styles these days, so that styles overlap with many different so-called ‘subcultures’. For example, dance music might sample aspects of reggae or even heavy metal, which leads to a breakdown in style-boundaries and more people identifying with each other from different style groups, which challenges the idea that there are distinct ‘subcultures’.
Dance music especially breaks down these barriers and encourages consumers to pick and mix from a range of styles and so youth identities are more multi-faceted than they once might have been.
The concept of ‘clubbing’ also challenges the idea of fixed, style based identities. Most ‘clubbers’ go to several different types of club night, and so ‘clubbing’ is a series of fragmented temporal experiences in which clubbers move through different crowds on different nights and assume different identities depending on the venue and theme of the night.
During modernity, identities tended to be based on ‘ways of life’ which were handed down through the generations based on locality, class and gender.
Bennet (1999) believes that contemporary identities in postmodern societies are based on ‘lifestyles’ rather than ‘ways of life’. Lifestyles and the identities expressed through them are chosen based on consumer preferences.
Neo-tribes are an example of such lifestyle choices, and people to move between different neo-tribes, expressing different identities.
People might choose a neo-tribe that reflects their social class background but this isn’t something shaped by society, it is a choice.
For example, Bennet argued that fans of the band Oasis adopt an image consisting of training shoes, football shirts and duffle coats, which is designed to illustrate their collective sense of a working class identity, however these individuals are not working class, this is a purely chosen, constructed and temporary identity.
This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module, normally taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
The concept of neo-tribe is derived from the work of Michael Maffesoli (1996) who coined the term ‘tribus’ (or tribes) to describe contemporary youth.
Recent independent research conducted during Lockdown has found that 56% of people report that they are part of a ‘subgroup’.
The research was conducted by ‘The Nursery‘ and consisted of a phone survey of 1800 adults. The most popular subculture types reported were:
Religious groups (not mainstream religions)
Restrictive diets (e.g. paleo, vegan etc)
The most common motive for joining a subculture was a ‘sense of belonging’, with 75% of respondents saying membership of their subculture was an important aspect of their identity.
Gaming is the largest genre of subculture, with 20% of respondents saying they had started gaming during lockdown, and new religious subcultures such as Wicca (3% of people) are also increasingly popular.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This is an important update for subcultural theories of ‘deviance‘. IF we accept the definition of the above types of subculture (such as gaming cultures) as subcultures, then being part of a subculture is now normal, as 56% say they are part of one, and thus being part of a subculture is no longer deviant.
This seems to offer support for postmodern theories of subculture and society – Britain’s social make-up now consists of people fragmented into groups who choose to subscribe to a subculture/ group that gives their life meaning (almost 50% of respondents cited creativity as an important aspect of their subcultural membership)
This research also shows how far we’ve come from the early days of subcultural theory in the 1950s – such as Albert Cohen’s Status Frustration theory, and how irrelevant that is to understanding our diverse, consumer oriented postmodern subcultures.
It’s unlikely that 56% of the population join subcultures due to status frustration!
Then again, that particular theory wasn’t trying to explain subcultures such as those in the above research, and it may still be relevant in explaining why people join more deviant subcultures?
A summary of some sociological studies on pupil subcultures exploring different types of subculture such as pro-school and anti-school subcultures.
Pupil subcultures are groups of students who share some values, norms and behaviour, which give them a sense of identify, and provide them with status through peer-group affirmation.
Pupil subcultures take a variety of forms, ranging from pro-school to anti-school subcultures, with a variety of other responses in-between, although it is mainly the anti-school subcultures that have been of interest to sociologists as these are related to educational underachievement, and they are just interesting in themselves!
This post defines anti and pro school subcultures, summarises some of the classic sociological studies on the topic, looks at subcultures in relation to class gender and ethnicity and finally offers some evaluations of how significant they are to an understanding of in-school processes today.
Types of School Subculture
The two main types of school subculture usually identified within the sociology of education are anti-school cultures and pro-school cultures, but there are plenty of more nuanced types of subculture that have been identified by researchers, often based on social class, gender and ethnic backgrounds of pupils.
The anti-school subculture
The anti-school subculture, (sometimes called the counter school culture), consist of groups of students who rebel against the school for various reasons, and develop and alternative set of delinquent values, attitudes and behaviours in opposition to the academic aims, ethos and rules of a school.
In the anti-school subculture, truancy, playing up to teachers, messing about, breaking the rules, avoiding doing school work and generally disrupting the smooth running of the school day become a way of getting back at the system and gaining status among peers.
Counter-school cultures are cultures of resistance, or anti-learning cultures, and participation in can be a means of gaining status among one’s peers – the more deviant an act, the more status you gain.
The classic study of the counter-school culture is Paul Willis’ (1977) ‘Learning to Labour‘ in which he observed 12 working class to find out why they spent all their time messing around in school rather than working.
The Pro-School Subculture
Pro-school subcultures are those which accept the values and ethos of the school and willingly conform to its rules. They tend to be those students in higher sets who aspire to high academic achievement and are prepared to work hard, and work ‘with the teachers’ to achieve these goals.
Pro-school subcultures are typically comprised of children from middle class backgrounds, although not in all cases. Mac An Ghaill (1994) found examples of two different types of pro-school subculture in his participant observation study: The academic achievers who were mainly middle class and pursing success through traditional A-level subjects, and The New Enterprisers who were mainly from working class backgrounds and pursuing success through vocational subjects such as Business Studies.
See below for more details on Mac An Ghaill’s study.
Between Pro and Anti-School Subcultures: A Range of Responses
Peter Woods (1979) suggested that dividing pupil subcultures into simply two poles: pro- and anti-school was too simplistic. Woods also suggested that students don’t easily split into subcultures, instead he suggested that there is a wide variety of responses to school, and pupils can switch between different adaptations as they progress through their school careers:
Peter Woods: Eight ways of adapting to school:
Ingratiation – Pupils who are eager to please teachers and have very favourable attitudes towards school. Conformist pro-school.
Compliance – Pupils who accept school rules and discipline, and see school as a useful way to gain qualifications, but who don’t have a wholly positive or negative attitude towards school. This is typical of first year students.
Opportunism – Pupils who fluctuate between seeking approval of teachers and form their peer groups.
Ritualism – Pupils who go through the motions of attending school but withiout great engagement or enthusiasm.
Retreatism – Pupils who are indifferent to school values and exam success- messing about in class and daydreaming are common, but such students do not want to challenge the authority of the school.
Colonization – Pupils who try to get away with as much as possible. Such students may express hostility to the school but will still try to avoid getting into trouble. More common in the later years of schooling.
Intransigence – troublemakers who are indifferent to school and who aren’t that bothered about conformity.
Rebellion – the goals of schools are rejected and pupils devote their efforts to achieving deviant goals.
Key studies on subcultures
The sad thing about subcultures in schools is that most of the classic research was done decades ago, possibly reflecting the fact that clearly identifiable subcultures were more likely to exist back then…
Some of the key studies include:
Hargreaves (1967) Labelling and Subcultures
Lacey (1970) Differentiation and polarisation
Willis (1977) Learning to Labour
Mirza (1984) Young, Female and Black
Mac an Ghail (1994) Masculinities and Schooling
Archer (2003) Muslim boys and education
Hollingworth and Williams (2009) Chavs, Townies and Charvers.
Below I include summaries of these key studies and links to further information where appropriate. Please see below for the full references.
David Hargreaves: Labelling and Subcultures
David Hargreaves (1967) argued that teacher labelling and streaming resulted in the formation of subcultures as students responded differentially to their positive or negative labels. He studied one secondary school and found that students labelled as ‘troublemakers’ were placed in lower streams, those viewed as having better behaviour were placed in higher streams.
The students placed in the lower streams were viewed as no hopers and had in fact been negatively labelled by the education system twice: once by being put in a failing school (a secondary modern) and then by being put in the lower streams. These students were regarded as ‘worthless louts’ by many teachers.
Faced with the prospect of being unable to achieve in school these students somehow had to maintain their self-worth and construct a sense of identity within the school.
Students who had been labelled as troublemakers tended to seek each other out and formed a non-conformist delinquent subculture in which they gained status through breaking school rules: disrupting lessons, giving cheek to teachers, truanting, not handing in homework.
Two distinct groups in fact emerged in the school according to Hargreaves: the conformists who were the ones who have been labelled positively and put in higher streams, and the non-conformist delinquents described above.
Differentiation and Polarisation
Lacey’s (1970) study of a middle class grammar school found that there were two related processes at work in schools – differentiation and polarization. Most schools generally placed a high value on things such as hard work, good behaviour and exam success, and teacher judge students and rank and categorise them into different groups – streams or sets – according to such criteria. This is what Lacey called differentiation.
One of the consequences of differentiation through streaming, setting and labelling is polarisation. This refers to the way students become divided into two opposing groups, or ‘poles’: those in the top streams who achieve highly, who more or less conform, and therefore achieve high status in the terms of the values and aims of the school, and those in the bottoms sets who are labelled as failures and therefor deprived of status.
Varies studies, such as that by Hargreaves (1967, 1976), Ball (1981) and Abraham (1989), have found that teachers’ perception of students’ academic ability and the process of differentiation and polarisation influenced how students behaved, and led to the formation of pro- and anti-school subcultures.
Paul Willis: Learning to Labour
Paul Willis (1977) conducted in-depth research with 12 working class lads in one comprehensive school in the Midlands who formed what he called a counter school culture.
The lads saw school and academic learning as pointless to their future lives as factory workers. They therefor resented school, and spent their time messing around and resisting any attempt to learn anything. Status was earned within the group by disrupting lessons and doing as little work as possible, in
The ‘lads’ in Willis’ study were very much a traditional, working-class macho subculture, and they defined the typically middle class students who obeyed the school rules as ‘earoles’ because they were always listening to the teacher, they also saw these students as a bit cissy, in contrast to their identification with ‘proper’ masculine working class manual-labour.
This is such a significant study in the the sociology of education that it’s worth a post in its own right, so I recommend having a look at ‘Learning to Labour‘ for a more in-depth look at this classic research study!
Masculinities, sexualities and schooling
Mac An Ghaill (1994) focused more on how gender identities influenced the formation of subcultures and demonstrated that subcultural responses were more complex than just being pro and anti school.
Mac An Ghaill identified at least four distinct subcultures: the macho lads, the academic achievers, the ‘new enterprisers’, and the Real Englishmen.
He also examined the experience of gay students, but it’s not clear whether these students formed a subculture.
He conducted research with year 11 students in a school in a mainly working class comprehensive school in the West Midlands and found that subcultures emerged in response to a range of factors such as:
the way the students were organised into sets
the curriculum they followed
the relationships the pupils had with their teachers
Students’ gender identities
the students’ position within the class structure
the changing labour market
The macho lads
These were the academic failures who had been placed in the bottom sets and they were much like the lads in Willis’ classic study. They saw school as a ‘hostile authority’ and making pointless demands on them. They formed an anti-school culture which was based around acting tough, having a laugh and looking after your mates. Messing around in lessons was also a norm of this subculture.
They viewed academic work as effeminate and were more likely to see physical work as ‘real work’. However unlike the lads in Willis’s study i the 1970s, there were very few manual jobs for the macho lads to go into, all they had to look forward to were substandard Youth Training Schemes and then probably unemployment, which created something of a sense of frustration.
Teachers saw it as one of their jobs to police the macho lads
The academic achievers
These had been put in top sets by teachers and were well regarded by them as they were positive about school, the subjects they were studying.
They were mostly from skilled manual working-class backgrounds and sought to achieve academic success by focusing on traditional academic subjects such as English, maths and the sciences. They were positive about their prospectives of being upwardly socially mobile.
The New Enterprisers
These were typically from working class backgrounds and rejected the traditional academic curriculum, which they saw as a waste of time, but were motivated to study subjects such as business and computing and were able to achieve upward mobility by exploiting school-industry links to their advantage.
The Real Englishmen
These were a small group of middle-class students typically from liberal professional backgrounds who rejected what teachers had to offer, believing their own culture and knowledge to be superior.
They saw the motivations of both the Enterprisers and Achievers as somewhat shallow although they did themselves aspire to going to university and professional careers.
They had something of an aloof attitude to school. Doing well was not something they valued as they saw school as beneath them, yet they needed to be successful in order to prove this, and so were concerned to achieve without making any apparent effort.
Of course they may well have worked hard at home, but it was the appearance of achieving effortlessly that was important.
Mac An Ghail was one of the first researchers to take into account the experiences of gay students who found the school heterosexist and homophobic. They also criticised the normalisation of heterosexual relationships and the nuclear family within the school.
Heidi Mirza: Young, Female and Black
Mirza studied 62 black girls and women aged 15-19 in two secondary schools and found that they had positive attitudes towards achieving success in school. However many also thought that some teachers were racist and so formed subcultures based on their ethnicity which valued education but had little respect for the school which was seen as a racist institution.
Race, Masculinity and Schooling: Muslim Boys and Education
Louis Archer (2003) studied Muslim boys in four schools in North West England. She found that they valued aspects of ‘gansta’ masculinity such as being macho, being respected and talking tough.
However they also valued the more traditional masculinity associated with the breadwinner role within the family, and recognised that academic success was the most likely route to a decent job and income.
They also felt that some teachers were racist and that they were victimised by them, but this never manifested itself in an out and out anti-school culture.
Chavs, Charvers and Townies
Hollingworth and Williams (2009) researched the ways in which some working class pupils were labelled as ‘chavs’ by their middle class peers.
The research used interviews with 124 families together, 180 mothers and fathers seperately and 60 students aged between 12 and 25, so some parents and students were reflecting back on their school years.
The students were able to identify distinct subcultures:
Hippies or poshies
Goths and emos
Rockers and gansters
Townies, chavs or charvers.
The first three were mostly middle class, but the chav subcultures were invariably working class, but none of the working class students gave themselves those labels, rather they were imposed on them by their middle class peers who were keen to emphasise that they were not part of the chav subculture.
The middle class students looked down on ‘chav culture’ seeing them as immoral, antisocial, lacking self-control, having poor taste and being uninterested in education and thus likely to fail.
Social class, gender and ethnic subcultures
Students often group themselves along social class, gender and ethnic lines, and much research on this topic has focused on the educational significance of working-class subcultures, male subcultures and ethnic minority subcultures especially.
Below I include a summary grid of some of the different studies on subcultures in relation to social class, gender and ethnicity.
Why do pupils form subcultures?
There is significant theoretical debate concerning the formation of pupil subcultures (i.e. the question of where they come from).
The early theorists Hargreaves and Lacey focus on anti-school subcultures and argue these are a ‘response’ to teachers negatively labelling mainly working class boys and placing them in lower streams or sets. Those thus labelled then respond by forming anti-school cultures which reward individuals within them with status for misbehaving in school.
Paul Willis had a more nuanced approach arguing that the lads actively chose to form a counter school culture based on their accurate assessment that they school wasn’t relevant to them because they didn’t need qualifications to get working class jobs, so their counter-school culture was mainly just about passing the time by ‘having a laff’.
Later studies tend to focus on the diversity of subcultures within schools and see different subcultures emerging based on pupil’s class backgrounds, genders and sexualities. For example Mac an Ghail identified three different working class male subcultures alone within one school, two of which were pro-school but in different ways (one middle and one working class) and one of which was anti-school (working class).
The two studies by Mirza and Archer show that subcultures are formed based on ethnicities and perceptions of schools as racist institutions play a part in this, but both ethnic subcultures in these two studies remained generally positive about education.
Finally, Hollingworth and William’s study suggests that the subcultures perceived by middle class students are mainly based around style expect for those from the working class who are seen as ‘chavs’. However those who were labelled as chavs didn’t themselves identity as chavs which raises the question of whether this subculture ever really existed at all!
Tony Sewell has argue that the kind of students who join anti-school subcultures get their anti-school attitude from outside of school, so the subculture cannot simply be a response to processes within school.
Evaluations of Subcultures and subcultural theory
How important are subcultures for an understanding of in-school processes and the experience of education today?
Many of the older studies focussing on anti-school cultures are probably no longer relevant today. Many of the students who would have formed these cultures are probably now educated in Pupil Referral Units.
It is also the case that while they make for an interesting case study, the vast majority of students were never part of such groups, and even less so in today’s contemporary society.
If we fast forward to some of the more recent studies it is clear that some students continue to form subcultures, but along ethnic, gender and class lines, and these are more likely to be less extreme and certainly very unlikely to be anti-school.
If students today are aware of subcultures within their schools these will most likely be mere style subcultures and incidental to the school, with students having a normal attitude to school work.
Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)
There are significant differences in educational achievement by ethnicity. Around 80% of Chinese children achieve 5 or more GCSE grades at A*- C compared to only 55% of Caribbean and about 15% of Gypsy Roma children. The national average is around 65%.
The idea that in-school processes are the main reason for these differences is associated with Interactionism which focuses on processes such as teacher labelling, Institutional racism and pupil subcultures. I will explore how these in-school factors affect pupils differently while evaluating using cultural deprivation and cultural capital theory.
Teacher Labelling and Ethnicity
Two classic studies in Sociology found that teacher labelling based on ethnic stereotypes did occur in British schools 25 years ago.
Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children. Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly, were seen as aggressive and disruptive, and were more likely to be disciplined for bad behaviour than children from other backgrounds.
David Gilborn (1990) found that teachers tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system.
The main problem with both of these studies are based on small scale samples and they are very dated, and they tell us nothing about whether ethnic stereotyping exists today. If anything, teacher bias is less likely given the greater emphasis put on multi-cultural education and the increased awareness of diversity.
Having said this, the rates of African-Caribbean pupils are still 3-4 times higher than the national average, which could be a result of the biases found by Wright and Gilborn, but given lack of recent research, we simply don’t know whether African-Caribbean children are objectively more deviant, or whether they are just perceived to be so by racist teachers.
A further problem with the above is that if teachers are just ignoring Asian pupils, and letting them get on with it, then they can’t really be having much of an impact on their education – and thus it must be home factors which explain why many Asian (Indian and Chinese) students today do better than the white majority.
Institutional Racism in Schools
A second reason for ethnic differences in achievement may be Institutional Racism which is where discrimination against minority groups is built into the organisation of the school – this can happen in various ways: through the ethnocentric curriculum, through banding and streaming and through the hiring of fewer minority teachers.
The ethnocentric curriculum is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain. The curriculum can be described as Ethnocentric – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.
Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have no hope of achieving A-Cs.
Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion. The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; feeling that assemblies were not relevant.
The problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.
Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.
However, some recent statistics do suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate) – the end result of this was that in 2013, in the whole of the UK only three black people were accepted as trainee-history teachers. Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.
Pupil Subcultures and Ethnicity
Another in-school factor is pupil subcultures – as with teacher racism a number of classic studies from 20 years ago have focused mainly on black subcultures:
Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school. Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.
Mac an Ghail (1998) looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism.
As with the research on teacher labelling, the research on the relationship between pupil subcultures and educational achievement is somewhat thin today. If anything, today subcultures are probably less important, as there seems to be less resistance to the school today than in previous years.
Evaluation – Home Factors
Most sociologists seem to agree that home background is more important than in-school factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity: As with class and gender, schools only account for s10% of the differences in achievement (according to a recent Analysis podcast), home-factors are much more important. Pupils only spend a minority of their time in-school after all!
Tony Sewell, for example, focuses on the higher rates of single parent households and the influence of gangsta culture on young black boys, which is far more significant than anything which goes on in-school.
Also, where the excellent achievement on Chinese children is concerned, it seems to be the ‘tiger parenting’ style which advantages these pupils compared to others.
Most of the research on in-school factors focuses on African-Caribbean underachievement, which is a narrow focus, there are other differences too – Gypsy Roma for example, and given that the main reason for their underachievement is the low attendance rate, again school is not a significant factor here.
However, in-school factors may play a role in explaining the biggest problem with underachievement today – that of white working class children, who themselves feel excluded from the culture of the school because they feel school does not reflect their culture, but this is more of a matter of social class (and gender) rather than ethnicity.
In conclusion, I would say that in-school factors explain very little of the differences in achievement by ethnicity, most of the difference is accounted for by home factors and schools cannot be expected and should not be expected to close the gap, moreover, I believe that focusing on issues of race within education are a red-herring, the issue of class and differential achievement is far more important, irrespective of ethnic background, and here, as with ethnicity, much of the differences in achievement are down to differences in home background, not differential achievement within schools.
analyse two reasons for the formation of subcultures (10) – a full mark answer.
The ten mark question on crime and deviance in the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods paper will ask you to analyse two reasons/ ways/. Below are a few exemplars (well, one for now, more to follow!) I knocked up, which should get you 10 marks in the exam…
My suggested strategy for answering these 10 mark questions is to make two points which are as different from each other as possible and then try to develop each point two to three times. You don’t have to evaluate each point, but it’s good practice to put a brief evaluation at the end, but don’t spend too long on this, focus more on the development (which is basically analysis).
NB – Usually there is an item attached to these questions, but more of those later!
Question: analyse two reasons for the formation of subcultures (10)
Point 1 – Consensus theorist Albert Cohen suggested status frustration was the root cause of subculture formation.
According to Cohen deviant subcultures are a working class problem – working class boys try hard in school, and fail, meaning they fail to gain status (recognition/ respect) – these boys find each other and form a deviant group, whereby they gain status within the group by being deviant – by doing things which are against the rules – for example bunking lessons – and the further you go, the more status you get.
Another Consensus theory which we could apply here is underclass theory – Charles Murray would argue that lower class boys fail at school because their parents don’t work and fail to socialise them into a good work-ethic, hence offering a deeper ‘structural cause’ of why subcultures are more likely to form among the lower social classes.
Hence applying these two consensus theories together, the process goes something like this – and individual is born into the underclass – they are not socialised into a work ethic – they fail at school – they get frustrated – they find similar working/ underclass boys – they gain status by being deviant.
A Problem with this theory is that it blames the working class for their own failure, Marxism criticises consensus theory because the ‘root cause’ of subcultures is the marginalisation of working class youth due to Capitalism.
Point 2 – Interactionists would point to negative labelling as the root cause of subculture formation
According to Howard Becker, teachers have an image of an ‘ideal pupil’ who is middle class – working class pupils don’t fit this image – they dress differently and have different accents, and so teachers have lower expectations of them – they thus don’t push them as hard as middle class students – over the years this results in a self fulfilling prophecy where working class students are more likely to decide they are failures and thus think that school is not for them – It is this disaffection which results in subculture formation.
David Gilborn further applied this idea to the formation of subcultures among African-Caribbean students – according to Gilborn teachers believed black students to be more disruptive and thus were more likely to pick them up for deviant behaviour in class, while White and Asian students were ignored – this marginalised black students who when on to develop anti-school subcultures as a form of resistance against perceived racism.
In contrast to subcultural theory, in labelling theory it is the authorities who are to blame for the emergence of subcultures, rather than the deviant youths themselves.
A criticism of labelling theory is that it is deterministic – not everyone accepts their labels, so not every negative label leads to a subculture.
Left realists believe the main causes of crime are marginalisation, relative deprivation and subcultures, and emphasise community oriented programmes for controlling and reducing crime.
Left Realism was developed by Jock Young, John Lea and Roger Matthews as a response to the increasing influence of Right Realism.
Left Realism is related to Marxism and the New Criminology, but tries to focus on finding practical ways of solving crime, as it claims that these two theories are too idealistic and have unrealistic ideas about how to solve crime.
Key ideas of Left Realist Criminology:
As a criticism of Marxism, Left Realists point out that the victims working class street crime are most likely to be the working class, and it is these types of ‘ordinary crime’ that worry working class people. Criminology should thus focus on dealing with these types of ‘ordinary crime’ rather than focusing on elite crime.
The three three major causes of (working class street) crime are relative deprivation, marginalisation and subcultures.
Solutions to crime should focus on social and community crime prevention and improving relations between the police and local communities.
Left Realism – Causes of Crime
Young (1997) argues that you have to be tough on crime, but this does not just mean being tough on criminals, it means being tough on trying to change the social factors which have a long term impact on crime rates and ensuring that the criminal justice system promotes social justice.
He argues that since the Second World War, rising living standards and the development of welfare provisions have gone hand in hand with a higher crime rate. Lea and young conclude that they can explain this using the following key concepts; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.
Lea and Young argue that crime has its roots in deprivation, but deprivation itself is not directly responsible for crime – for example, living standards have risen since the 1950s, so the level of deprivation has fallen, but the crime rate is much higher today than it was in the 1950s.
Left Realists draw on Runciman’s (1966) concept of relative deprivation to explain crime. This refers to how someone feels in relation to others, or compared with their own expectations.
The concept of relative deprivation helps to explain the apparent paradox of increasing crime in the context of an increasing wealthy society. Although people are better off today, they have a greater feeling of relative deprivation because of the media and advertising have raised everyone’s expectations for material possessions – we are wealthier, but we feel poorer, and thus there is more pressure to get more stuff to keep up with everyone else, which generates historically high crime rates.
Left Realists see subcultures as a group’s collective response to the situation of relative deprivation, and they draw on Cohen’s theory of status frustration to explain how they emerge. There are many different subcultural adaptations to blocked opportunities, and not all result in crime – but those subcultures which still subscribe to the mainstream values of material wealth but lack legitimate opportunities to achieve those goals.
This is where people lack the power or resources to fully participate in society. According to Left Realists marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals (such as wanting better pay and conditions) and organisations to represent them (such as trades unions), and as such they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.
By contrast, unemployed youth are marginalised – they have no specific organisation to represent them and no clear sense of goals – which results in feelings of resentment and frustration. Having no access to legitimate political means to pursue their goals, frustration can become expressed through violence.
‘Multiple Aetiology and The Square of Crime’
Left Realists argue that crime is caused by several different factors. They call this multiple aetiology. Crime is a product of formal and informal rules, actions of offenders and of reaction by victims, the state and its agencies, it is therefore important to understand why people offend, what makes victims vulnerable, the factors that affect public attitudes and responses to crime and the social forces that influence the police. This can be done by drawing together a number of different agencies in the community, who should all work together to solve crime.
Left Realism – Solutions to Crime
Left realist solutions to crime emphasis Social and Community Crime Prevention strategies which focus on individual offenders and the social context which encourages them to commit crime.
There are two broad approaches – Intervention, identifying groups at risk of committing crime and taking action to limit offending, and Community based approaches– involving the local community in combating crime.
One of the best-known intervention programmes aimed at reducing criminality is the Perry pre-school project for disadvantaged black children which took place in Michigan, USA. IN this programme a group of 3-4 olds were offered a two-year intellectual enrichment programme, during which time the children received weekly home-visits.
A longitudinal study following the children’s’ progress showed significant differences between the experimental group and a control group. By age 40, they had had significantly fewer arrests for various types of grime, and a higher percentage had graduated high school and made it into full-time employment. It was calculated that for every $1 spent on the programme, $17 were saved on welfare, prison and other costs.
Community Based Approaches to Reducing Crime
As far as community-based strategies for reducing crime are concerned – Young and Matthews (1992) argue that improving leisure facilities for the young, reducing income inequalities, improving housing estates, raising the living standards of poorer families, reducing unemployment and creating jobs with prospects, will all help to cut crime. Long term problems must be addressed, but more immediate measures can also be taken.
A third strategy for reducing crime according to left realists is to improve policing. They argue that over 90% of crimes are cleared up by the police as a result of information from the public, however research suggests that public confidence in the police has declined. Left Realists argue that if this relationship breaks down, the flow of information from the victims of crime will dry up. If Police do not have the information they need from the public, they have to find new ways of solving crime, and there is a drift towards military policing (the police having to resort to tactics such as stopping and searching or using surveillance) they then alienate people in the community and make everyone feel like criminals, and as a result trust in the police declines further. Therefore the police must concentrate on improving relationships with the community and the public should have more say in shaping police policy –where the police should listen to the public about what crime affects them most in their area.
Evaluations of Left Realism
Left Realist solutions are the most costly of all crime prevention measures.
HOWEVER, if done properly, community prevention measures can save hundreds of thousands of pounds, by ‘turning’ a potential criminal into an employed tax-payer.
Marxists argue that these policies may tackle deprivation but they do not tackle the underlying structural inequalities in the Capitalist system which are the root cause.
Such approaches target working class, inner city communities and do not tackle elite crime.
Michel Foucault and David Garland interpret the these strategies as being about surveillance and control rather than real social change which prevents crime.
Signposting – Related Posts
Left Realism is taught as part of the compulsory module in Crime and Deviance, usually delivered in the second year of study.
It is usually taught straight after Right Realism and followed by Post and Late Modern Theories of Crime.
Jock Young was one of the main left realist theorists and he went on to develop the Vertigo of Late Modernity theory, which is kind of an evolution of Left Realism plus a bit extra!